Trying to predict who will win the presidential race in Florida is extremely difficult, even for seasoned political scientists. Polls are showing Barack Obama and Mitt Romney neck-and-neck among likely voters in the state.
For the past 20 years, University of South Florida political science professor Susan MacManus has been analyzing Florida politics. And if there’s one thing she’s learned?
“Just when people think they’ve got Florida figured out, they realize they don’t," she said.
According to the website RealClearPolitics, if you average together about a dozen Florida polls, you get Romney with a less than 2 percent lead over President Obama in the state. Quinnipiac University, CBS News and the New York Times conducted one of the Florida polls, which Quinnipiac’s Peter Brown said, showed: “The two candidates are in a dead heat. Mr. Obama had a statistically insignificant 48-to-47 percent margin over Mr. Romney. That’s a tie.”
MacManus said, other polls have Obama in a slight lead; still others put Romney slightly ahead.
“Polls are all over the place. You can tell that they’re using different sampling techniques and different assumptions about the ultimate makeup of the electorate on election day," she said.
What MacManus does know about the Florida electorate, she said, is that voters in the state are older than they were in 2008.
She said, "A much larger portion of the Florida electorate, in 2008, was under age 50, and that, of course, gives a slight edge to Romney as well, because in just about in every poll in Florida, older voters have been leaning more Republican.”
Another edge for Romney could come from his lead with independent voters in the state, which MacManus said, is estimated to be about 6 percent.
“This is an election that’s focused on the economy," she said. "It isn’t surprising that the independents are breaking more toward the Republicans.”
But those factors haven’t been enough to give Romney a significant lead in the polls.
“Both parties and both candidates knew from the get-go that Florida was going to be a really, really competitive state, as it always is," she said.
To highlight just how competitive, she said, if you look at two polls that proved most accurate in their predictions in the 2008 election, one has Romney with a slight lead in Florida. And the other has Obama up just a hair.